Burlington Commons ket part of community

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 19, 2004

BURLINGTON - Swings sway gently in the breeze. No bouncing balls dribble across the concrete basketball courts. The jungle gym is without the pounding of little feet across its faded wooden planks.

On a cold January day, the Burlington Commons sits empty at the corner of Court and Washington Streets. All that will change once warm weather arrives to stay.

Revitalizing the park has been an ongoing project for several years by the Concerned Citizens of Burlington community group. The small riverfront park used to be just a basketball court and a small play area that was maintained by a young men's organization called the Black Machine.

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In recent years, the Concerned Citizens have worked to fill in the riverbank, add a picnic shelter, gazebo, walking trails, restrooms and expand the playground to include swings, slides, tires, a jungle gym and more.

"It is a continues project," said Harriette Ramsey, president of the Concerned Citizens group. "It probably will be as long as we live."

A popular place in nice weather, children, seniors, families and more visit the area frequently for birthdays, reunions or just to relax and have fun, Ramsey said. For the past few years, it has also been host to a walk-a-thon and health clinic.

"People use it for all variety of purposes," she said. "We welcome people to use it."

For all that they have done, the labor of love has not been without its trials. Ramsey said it has been heartbreaking in the past for her to see that vandals have torn down gutters, stolen items, thrown the picnic bench over the hill an more.

"I have gotten very frustrated, disgusted, that people are not taking pride in what we have worked hard to maintain," she said. "There was no safe place for the children to play. That was the whole thing."

Ramsey is quick to note that it would not be possible without all the volunteers that help maintain it and park committee chairperson Bernard Conwell who always goes above and beyond.

"He has put endless hours in to it," she said. "He is dedicated to that playground."

Once Mother Nature cooperates, Conwell and others are likely to stop by the park that continues to grow a part of the community.

By KEVIN COOPER/The Ironton Tribune

Lawrence County business leaders are not ready to give up on a major highway project - especially after having already waited for more than 40 years.

Members of the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce's Transportation Committee worked on Friday to formulate a strategy to help secure funds for the final two phases of the project commonly known as the Chesapeake Bypass.

The project's second and third phases were left off the state's preliminary funding list for 2005-2010.

Those phases would build first a two-lane road connecting State Route 7, where it current dead ends as the roadway turns south to the West Huntington Bridge, and state routes 607 and 775 near Proctorville. The project would bypass the rough route State Route 7 currently makes between Chesapeake and Proctorville.

"You've got an area through there where, obviously there are a lot of spots through there that you can expect flip outs. It's a road that's in very poor condition. And that's what we're left with if we don't build the bypass," said Bob Dalton, chairman of the chamber's transportation committee.

Discussed since the 1950s, the project for decades had been subject of much local frustration. Then, a few years ago, when the project's first phases were finally funded, locals saw the light at the end of the congested tunnel.

Residents were instructed where the corridors would be and which property would likely need to be gobbled up to make way for the new roads. Now the lack of funding and uncertain timetable on the final phases has created a state of limbo, causing ill feelings and frustrated property owners.

"We've got people that have actually gone, that live in this right-of-way, that have purchased homes elsewhere," Dalton said. "They have been left in a never, never land."

Chamber members, along with the county commissioners and representatives with the KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission plan to contact Ohio Department of Transportation Director Gordon Proctor.

Their goals are simple: Determine why ODOT's Transportation Review Advisory Council did not fund the final phases and try to persuade TRAC members to reconsider.

"We're writing a letter to the director and also asking for the criteria that is used to judge our project," Dalton said. "After we get the response from that, we'll know more on how we go from there."

Dalton and others contend further delays will simply increase the costs and may, in fact, lead to having to rework the entire plan - again.

"Otherwise, we'll be back to 1953, watching the plans deteriorate and become unusable," Dalton said.

Part of their plan includes attempting to show

ODOT officials how important the project is to continued economic development.

Calling the project "the Chesapeake Bypass" as originally conceived and approved in 1953 is not longer accurate, officials say.

Now local leaders consider the project a Tri-State Metro "Outerbelt" since it would greatly connect Huntington, W.Va., metro area with southeast Ohio.

Phase 1A was completed in May 2003, construction of State Route 607, connecting the 31st Street Bridge in Huntington to State Route 775, bypassing downtown Proctorville.

Phase 1B, an approximately $22.1 million project, includes the construction of a 4.5-mile, two-lane route from State Route 607 and Irene Road East to the existing State Route 7, just north of Fairland East Elementary.

The project will also include the construction of intersections with State Route 775 and Kinley Avenue. It is now under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2005.

It would also include the construction of three interchanges: one at State Route 527 and Shafer Town Road in the west; one at state routes 607 and 775 in the central portion; and one at State Route 243, via Kinley Avenue, in the east.

Dalton said business leaders feel good about the area's relationship with ODOT.

"We got where we are with an alliance with ODOT," he said. "They've been up front and fair with us. We're not approaching this in an adversarial position. We just didn't get it done so we're still negotiating."

Leaders expect to have the letter requesting information and a meeting with Proctor to be sent early next week.

The TRAC's preliminary funding plan is currently in a 90-day public comment period that ends in March. Final approval is expected in May.